It seems more and more likely that the USF baseball team will not make the Conference USA tournament for the second year in a row. The Bulls (29-29, 12-15 C-USA) were swept in three games by Southern Miss (38-15, 19-9 C-USA) — the third overall team in the conference — over the weekend, falling 18-8 Friday, blowing three leads on Saturday to lose 8-6 and giving up a late-inning home run to lose 8-7 Sunday.
USF is eighth in the conference standings, with its final weekend series poised at home hosting Cincinnati (24-27, 10-16 C-USA), which is right behind the Bulls in the ninth spot.
The team had a rough weekend at Pete Taylor Park, especially on Friday, when an error allowed six unearned runs to score, totaling of nine runs in the fourth inning. Sophomore starter Casey Hudspeth also struggled in his 11th start, giving up 11 runs on 10 hits, dropping his record to 7-5.
“That error was on a play that would have been an inning-ending double play,” coach Eddie Cardieri said. “It was a tough break and it lead to nine runs that inning. It was all tough luck, because you don’t see nine runs scored in an inning very often.
“That inning really cost us because we got eight runs on 14 hits that should have been good enough to win. It was tough luck.”
Senior third baseman Jeff Baisley shined through Friday’s game with two doubles, putting him at 26 on the year, the new single-season record for a USF player, and he continues to lead all Division I teams in that category. The previous record was set by the only former Bulls baseball player in the major leagues, Chicago White Sox player Ross Gload, who hit 24 two-baggers in 1997.
In Saturday’s loss, the Bulls blew two leads to the Golden Eagles and gave up two home runs to Southern Miss freshman outfielder Drew Carson.
Freshman shortstop Dexter Butler regained a 5-3 lead with a two-run blast in the fourth, but the Bulls allowed a bases-loaded double down the left field line to push the score to 6-5.
“(Saturday) was another tough ball game that either team could have won,” said Cardieri, whose team swept the No. 10 Florida Gators May 10 and 11, 8-7 and 11-5, respectively. “We out-hit them actually. This weekend was all-around tough.”
And in the final game Sunday, senior Tim Mattison blew a save opportunity by giving up a two-run home run to Golden Eagles junior first baseman Marc Maddox. Mattison was replacing freshman Davis Billardello, who pitched 4 1/3 innings. Billardello replaced freshman Ty Pryor, who started the game and pitched three innings.
Brandin Daniel hit his third home run of the year, and the Bulls scored four runs off starter Barry Bowden, including a two-RBI single by Butler, but fell short due to Maddox’s 14th home run of the season.
Only the top eight teams in the conference reach the tournament being held, ironically enough, in Hattiesburg by the Golden Eagles on May 25-29. And with the Bearcats at the heels of USF, it has to win one out of three games in its final home stand.
“There’s been a lot of games where we’ve come up short this season,” Cardieri said. “This whole season has been filled with one-run games where we didn’t win or we didn’t get that clutch hit.
“On the other hand, there have been plenty of games that could have gone either way or what not, but our record is what it is. I’m not sure yet how many wins we have to get over Cincinnati to make the tournament, I just know that we need to win. That’s the bottom line.”